Sunday, July 31, 2016

Maximizing a book trailer's potential

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Book trailers are an awkward genre. Somewhere between movie trailer and short film, animation and PowerPoint presentation, spoken word performance and late-night informercial.

And very, very often, just plain bad. Sorry.

But book trailers are a new concept, and the quality of a nascent art form is always iffy. With book trailers, authors of extremely varying skills and background have to either cobble together their own movie or spend unknown thousands hiring someone to make it for them, of further unknown quality.

And who watches book trailers anyway?

Well, judging from my research checking Youtube View stats for hundreds of trailers... 

Practically nobody.

Furthermore, an expensive, professionally produced trailer doesn't necessarily sell more books. I've compared Youtube and Amazon pages (and reviews). But a hideous trailer doesn't repel potential readers, either. After all, your target audience consists of readers, not movie fans.

Therein lies the conflict of book trailers. Some are excellent, boasting perfect effects, acting, narration, and timing. But a viewer who loves that is probably a film freak, not a bookworm. And the media company who knows how to get 100,000 views for that trailer may not know how to reach a single Goodreads nerd.

Book trailers also sit squarely in the realm of the self-published book, since indie authors -- no wait, all authors, actually, but alas another day -- have to provide all their own marketing. As we know, the self-publishing industry is an endless, shallow pool of creations where readers searching for a good book have to wade ankle-deep through the titles and open each cover, one by one. Similarly, with the cheap digital tools that are available to the lay-filmmaker, book trailers are also multiplying in every corner like fungus.

I decided to watch a bunch of book trailers from 2015-16 and give those little digital reels some desperately needed love. The take-away from my research: Good writing sells a book best. The trailer doesn't seem to matter.

Book trailers should be their own genre, independent from the books they are supposed to sell, I dare say. Because there are some that I really loved, among the ocean of amateurish, cringe-inducing clips. 

As I mentioned, a great trailer doesn't guarantee a great book. But I did find that trailers can be a useful way of showing yourself off as an intelligent, interesting writer. Authors, are you maximizing your trailer's potential?

1. A book trailer can reveal an author's storytelling ability.

Check out this gorgeous trailer for the book #hashtagged by Kimberly Hix Trant. Like with many of the most polished book trailers, Trant has the personal advantage of not only her background in journalism, but also in technology. But beyond the sparkles, Trant shows us that she knows how to make good writerly decisions. She hooks us in with emotions -- a family relationship. She chooses her words wisely -- no rambling text. She has a feel for timing -- not a dull second in this 1:43 trailer. In fact, the bar is set very high with this Terminator-esque teaser. It makes me curious if the book matches up.

2. A book trailer can reveal how expressive you are.

So you don't have a family-run graphics and filmmaking business? Here's a lower-tech success, the trailer for Harrison Kitteridge's fan fiction Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Paper Journal. Browsing Kitteridge's website, it's obvious that he does his own design and graphics, the sketched line being his dominant medium. He's a perfect example of Less is More, and that a scribble can be as expressive as a Caravaggio. What he shows us with his trailer: humor, humanity, and expressiveness. I expect something innovative and simultaneously traditional in the Sherlock Holmes way. There's a fair amount of text in the trailer, but it flows, leading me to believe he might have a good sense of timing.

3. A book trailer can give us quick, thorough impressions. And tell us if the author knows what he or she wants.

A picture is worth a thousand words. So a book trailer should save us the trouble of slogging through 15 pages of descriptive paragraphs, right? Take a look at Robert Isenberg's trailer for The Mysterious Tongue of Dr. Vermilion. Based on the credits on his Vimeo site, it looks like this is homemade. With poetic economy, Isenberg tells us where and when the stories in his book take place with poetic economy. He also uses timing to literally get the viewer's heart pounding (you gotta see this!). And he chooses images based on their dramatic effect and emotion, in contrast to the bland, stock photo slide-show trailers that I've seen by the dozen. That gives me faith in Isenberg's sense of storytelling.

I only have time to showcase these three today. Stay tuned for more thoughts and featured trailers. I'll post about the Most Common Mistakes I think authors make in book trailers. Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you watch book trailers? Have you bought a book because of its trailer?

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